* Each weekday for the rest of the month, we’ll put a member of the 2019-20 Celtics, and one of their most notable statistics, under the microscope while assessing their season and what lies ahead:
That’s the number of All-Star game appearances that departed when Al Horford and Kyrie Irving elected to sign with Atlantic Division rivals last summer. In total, Danny Ainge was tasked with replacing five of Boston’s 10 most used players from that season with Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, and Aron Baynes also moving on.
What went right for Ainge in 2020
Ainge and the Celtics were in an awkward spot to start the summer of 2019 but he patched the team up by signing Kemba Walker and a diverse group of low-budget centers.
The jury is still out on the 2019 draft class but Ainge’s “Plan A” tandem of Walker and Enes Kanter brought much-needed positivity, and Ainge’s best move might have come in October when he locked up Jaylen Brown on what now seems like a sweetheart of a rookie extension based on his development.
What went wrong for Ainge in 2020
Ainge’s decision to not overpay for a roster upgrade seemed prudent at the trade deadline and the buyout period that followed. Alas, health woes exposed Boston’s lack of depth in the postseason and made it fair to challenge if the Celtics needed an extra veteran player in the mix. The bigger question mark is whether recent draftees can emerge as key rotational presences as a bloating payroll makes it imperative that Boston hit on its picks moving forward.
Early outlook for Ainge for 2021
Ainge’s offseason to-do list starts with the draft next month. Operating with three first-round picks and limited roster spots, Ainge must decide whether it’s prudent to throw more darts; trade up; use picks to get off some minor contracts; or trade out and start accumulating the sort of future picks the team usually swims in.
Once free agency arrives, it’s likely that Ainge won’t have much beyond the taxpayer’s midlevel to operate with this offseason and, even then, he’ll have to tread carefully as the Celtics brace for a return to the luxury tax. Ultimately, it’s about finding the best players to complement this core and at a price point that doesn’t break the bank. But the East is going to be better and the Celtics must improve, too.